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Students debate dorm quality, cost amid price increases

There is a nearly $2,000 difference between the least and most expensive dorms, according to USF Housing & Residential Education. ORACLE PHOTO

As students bring into question the value of living on campus, some said they felt the disparity between lower and higher-cost dorms was concerning.

When asked whether or not they believed their dorms were worth the cost, 88% of the 103 on-campus resident respondents said they felt their dorms were not worth it in an April poll by The Oracle.

The poll reached residents of the Tampa campus through their emails and social media and asked them to answer a series of yes or no questions, biographical questions, list any concerns they had with their dorms and rate their satisfaction with various housing amenities on a scale from extremely dissatisfied to extremely satisfied.

Dorm prices are set to increase an average of 4.5% annually for the next five years starting Fall 2023. Under this plan, the least expensive dorms – Beta & Castor – would increase from $5,990 to $6,140 annually for a traditional style room. The most expensive dorms, which are located in The Village – Beacon, Endeavor, Horizon, Pinnacle and Summit – would increase from $7,900 to $8,176 annually, according to USF Housing & Residential Education

USF Housing & Residential Education Director of Outreach Andy Johnson said the increase was due to rising resource costs. 

“In fall 2019, Housing & Residential Education raised our rates one percent. Since then, residents have been paying the same rate,” Johnson said.

“Unfortunately, the cost of materials, labor, utilities, etc., continues to rise. The USF Board of Trustees recently approved a strategic five-year housing rate structure beginning fall 2023 to allow us to sustain our high quality residential experience on all three campuses,” Johnson said.

Increasing dorm costs are pushing some students off campus into third-party housing. Castor resident and business management freshman Riley Crosby pays for housing on his own, and said the increasing costs make dorm life unfeasible for him.

“My tuition gets paid for by Bright Futures, but that’s classes only so I actually have to pay for my living expenses out of pocket,” Crosby said.

“[Castor] is really the only [dorm] I can afford. So with my job, I’d have to get this one. But I’m not living on campus next year because of rising rates, so I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Students have also been noticing major disparities between the quality of the dorms. A freshman business analytics major and Castor resident who wished to remain anonymous recounted their disappointing first impression of the dorm room, which they compared to a box.

“The price [of Castor Hall] is relatively low, but inside it’s old and when it came to my room, I felt like it was a prison,” they said.

The freshman said the reason she chose to live in Castor Hall was due to timing. She had to register last minute and there weren’t any rooms available elsewhere. She said for students coming to campus, if price is no object, The Villages are her recommendation.

A side by side comparison of the Castor and Pinnacle Hall lobbies. ORACLE PHOTO/MARCELENE PILCHER

All campus residential buildings, with the exception of Juniper-Poplar – which is open for access to the dining hall, but requires keycard access to enter the lobby to residential floors – require USF ID card access to enter the lobby. Buildings in the Village have higher security than the others, requiring card reader access to both the residential wings and the lobby.

Johnson said the added security is due to the presence of multi-use spaces in the Village buildings.

“The additional card access into the residential living spaces in the Village and Juniper-Poplar allow us to limit access to those parts of the building to residents and authorized staff. We do not use multi-purpose spaces in Beta or Castor for non-residential uses and, therefore, additional card readers are not necessary,” Johnson said.

Of the 6% of students that listed having security concerns in the poll, 50% lived in Holly, 25% in Juniper-Poplar and 25% in the Villages.

A side by side view of the common spaces of Castor and Pinnacle Hall. ORACLE PHOTO/MARCELENE PILCHER

About 46% of on-campus student respondents experienced consistently unclean common spaces, with 70% of those being residents at the Villages.

A side by side look at the Castor and Pinnacle Hall bathrooms. ORACLE PHOTO/MARCELENE PILCHER

Of the respondents, 29% were dissatisfied with the cleanliness of their dorm’s bathroom, 58% were satisfied.

A freshman biomedical sciences major currently living in Castor, who requested to remain anonymous, recounted their poor experiences with dorm sanitation.

“The communal bathrooms are always dirty. The walls have hair on them,” the anonymous freshman said.

“One time there was … blood on the wall and the floor. There was a note posted outside the bathroom that said … ‘Hey sorry, my friend forgot to clean up after herself.’”

Cypress has the worst water quality, according to the poll, with 100% of respondents that lived in Cypress marking themselves dissatisfied, consisting of 33% of the total dissatisfied students.


A side by side comparison of the Castor and Pinnacle Hall kitchens. ORACLE PHOTO/MARCELENE PILCHER

There were 38% of students dissatisfied with their dorm kitchens, with 33% satisfied. The complex that dissatisfied students the most is Summit, where, on average, respondents marked themselves somewhat dissatisfied with the state of kitchens.

Future students may look forward to other options, as Johnson said a new upcoming housing project on the Tampa campus is in current discussions.

“Housing & Residential Education is also actively working with a consulting group to gather and analyze feedback from students, campus stakeholders, and the market to inform the next new housing project on the Tampa campus. We hope to be able to share more details this fall,” said Johnson.

Still, many current USF students pay for on-campus housing out-of-pocket, according to the poll, though not consistently across all dorms.

Of on-campus residents polled, 67% reported having to take up a part-time job to help pay for housing expenses. About 54% of students who reported living at the most expensive dorms – The Villages – reported needing to work, compared to 77% of residents at the other dorms. The Village’s residents also reported their parents having higher incomes, with the highest portion of generationally-wealthy students living at Endeavor.

Cypress has the highest portion of low-income respondents, with 100% reporting coming from low-middle to low-income families. Cypress also had the worst student ratings across all categories, with Beta-Castor in close second. The most satisfactory dorm is Endeavor, according to the poll.

The anonymous freshman and Castor resident cited low value as a major factor in their decision to leave campus next year.

“I just don’t think it’s worth it to live on campus. It’s super overpriced. We would be paying the same we have for Castor living at The Hub, and they have so many more amenities,” they said.